I am not doing the best job of normality by any means, but I thought I'd share how I'm staying reasonably sane during this period. I know my previous posts have come through as negative, but I like to call them realistic. I grew up in a dictatorship, witnessed daily poverty, disappearances of political prisoners, violence on the streets, poor water supply, constant electricity outtages and even water outtages. Gastro, hepatitis A, and other communicable diseases ran rampant through our community. So I don't think I'm an expert by any means, but for those of you born and bred in Australia, our current situation would be your first taste of unrest or insecurity. And my life in Chile was good, despite all the hurdles. Life here is hugely better!
I think being realistic is part of the equation. Allow me to explain the ways in which I am trying to look after my mental health at the moment:
1. Get up. I know, you have nothing to really get up for it you are not working. But the mere act of setting an alarm and getting up for a shower and to clean your teeth gives you a sense of purpose
2. Plan: I sometimes think there is nothing to do, so I make a list of things I intend to achieve, even if it is to feed the cats and other animals, put up a picture or do a craft. The mere act of crossing off items off a list has actually been shown to make your brain release dopamine, as a reward for a job well done.
3. Exercise: it's really important. If I could prescribe just one thing to all my patients, regardless of age or condition, it would be this. It focuses your brain on the basics: breathing, sweating, muscle energy, how tired you are feeling, and then seems to erase other thoughts and release dopamine at the end, so you feel good afterwards, AND you can cross it off your to do list for that extra bit of dopamine. The other benefit is the sunlight. We are invariably spending more time indoors and therefore that daily dose of Vitamin D becomes even more important.
4. Alcohol, caffeine and lollies. Pft. Spoil sport. I do it too, but just watch how much you are having of all of these things. Not only will you be depriving your body of nutrition, but alcohol makes you feel more depressed over time and disrupts your sleep cycles. You will gain weight, and place your liver and other organs at a higher risk of disease.
5. Eat well. We are so fortunate to still be able to enjoy good quality food. Continue your 5 serves of veg and two of fruit per day. You will get everything you need, and I dare you to try it and report back. I know you will feel better, no one ever feels worse. Trust me, it's one of those basic things I always go back to when I'm feeling bleurgh (technical term).
6. Mind stuff: the biggie. Your thinking will determine how you are feeling at the moment. So limit the amount of news stories you read or the focus you give to our current situation. Pick one good (preferably written) source of reliable information per day, and follow that. Avoid TV news stories. Seriously, the images of horror will climb straight into your limbic system (the emotion part of your brain) and you will feel worse. So, yes, you do need to be realistic, in that difficult things are going on, but dwelling on them or agonising over them will not change them!
Try to think of today and no further if you can. If you try to think ahead and imagine all sorts of scenarios of what the world might look like in 2, 3 or 9 months, then you will become overwhelmed. Remember that your imagination, predictions or trajectories and maps are not reality. And at the end of the day, do you really want to miss what is happening right here, right now? Look around you, smell around you, listen, look, feel the earth around you and all it has to offer.
Be grateful. We all have loads of things to be grateful for, everyday. A friend of mine shared an article once about dopamine release in the brain from just feeling grateful about something. The feel good parts of your brain light up, truly, and it can have a long lasting effect beyond the moment of gratefullness. So count your blessings, for we have many!
Hug someone. There is always someone you can still hug. And if you don't have anyone, hug a teddy or your pet. For older people living alone, consider moving in with a buddy and sharing the load so you don't feel lonely.
Grief. It looks like this shouldn't belong here, but it does. It is ok to feel sad. There are sad things happening. Call it by its name: you're grieving. Give it a few minutes per day, have a cry. Allow yourself the time to acknowledge it and call it what it is. But do not allow it to become your current mood. It is a normal part of loss, but it shouldn't colour your all day, every day, there are other things happening.
USE THE RESOURCES! The government is pouring money into services in acknowledgment of how hard things are at the moment. Use the telehealth services to chat to a doctor, we are expecting it, even. And NO, it does not take the time from "someone who needs it". If you need it, then use it! And while you are there, take care of existing health conditions review your general health and your medication, get your flu vaccine and all that sort of stuff!
7. Socialise. It's not the same, I agree, but a socially distant walk with a good friend, a video call with a friend or sibling or cousin makes you feel alive again, and hearing laughter or seeing a smile is so therapeutic.
8. Do something nice for someone. May be someone you know needs toilet paper, or hand sanitizer, or rice. Drop a little basket to someone who needs those things. Write letters to nursing home residents and drop them off to the staff to make their day, get the kids to draw things for the residents, write a letter by mail to a good friend or family member. Write a list of self help things and put them on your blog so that you remind yourself of all the things you need to do to stay healthy, and someone else might find it helpful. If you are really good at something, how about recording a brief tutorial and uploading it as a resource for home schooling parents? Borrow the neighbour's dog and go for a walk. Offer to help someone with their gardening.
9. Take the time to do things you never get a chance to do: paint that wall, plant that veggie patch, call an old friend. I often think how little time I get to spend at home usually, so this is it!
10. It's not forever. Life will throw us curve balls all the time. Think of it as a life experience, something you'll be able to tell younger people about when they are not living it. It's a historic time. Realise tough stuff makes you tougher and helps you to learn resilience and coping. So, you're growing through it. And it will pass...look, it's Easter already!
11. And never ever be afraid to ask for help. Call lifeline, call a friend, ring your doctor, yell HELP! loudly outside your house. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength to acknowledge your needs and seek to fulfil them.
So there you are, follow these principles and you can be as sane as I am. For those of you who know me, normality is in the eye of the beholder!! 😏